Posted by: Liz Massey | June 23, 2010

The Artist @ Work: Julia Patterson and social media for artists

Writer, designer, artist and social media specialist Julia Patterson.

Today’s installment of our Artist @ Work series features an interview with Julia Patterson, a writer, designer and artist based in Cave Creek, Arizona. Julia has discovered the power of social media for creative professionals and shares that knowledge through workshops and other outlets. While much of what she says in our conversation relates to visual artists, almost any creative person can benefit from her advice.

I became acquainted with Julia’s work in social media through a workshop posting for Sundust Gallery in Mesa, Arizona. You can get to know Julia’s work through her writing and design site, her website for her pastel painting work, or her art blog. Or, you can take the social media plunge, as she recommends, and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Tell us a little bit about your background as a creative person/artist, and how social media played a part in your career.

I’ve had quite a varied career: worked for universities, in the legal field, in professional fundraising, and now in graphic design for print and Web, and throughout my working life, I’ve tried to make time for creativity. Sometimes that creative impulse took the form of macramé plant holders, but most often the form was watercolor painting and most recently soft pastel. So I do understand the artistic sensibility and drive to create.

I also took a couple of online creativity coaching courses with Eric Maisel, which elevated my understanding of, first, the creative process, and second, the power of online connections.

Teaching social media is kind of a logical progression for me after designing Web sites and other materials for artists and art groups for so long. I tend to think of the Internet as an exciting place to share artwork, and I try to demystify that world for my artist clients. So to me social media sites are just another (but a lot more fun) avenue for sharing art, and I’m excited to expand artists’ horizons by providing these workshops.

I’m fascinated by social media in the same way I found fundraising interesting. You work to build a coherent message about your cause, put it out there over and over and over again, build relationships with those who share your passion and wait for magical things to happen. You can’t know how or when or where those things will happen, but they most assuredly will. And I’ve seen magic happen online quite often.

When did you first realize that social media could be important to your creative work?

At the end of 2008, I was happy with my progress in pastel painting and decided to get more serious about my fine art. But I realized I really didn’t know anything about the business of art, so I signed up for the smARTIST Telesummit, an online seminar series with various art biz experts. I noticed immediately that many of the speakers devoted time to some aspect of social networking, and that got my attention.

Until then, I had resisted adding to my time on the computer. But after that, I made the big decision to explore the deepest, darkest wilds of social media. My immediate goals: to connect with other artists and see how the whole bloomin’ social media thing worked. My ultimate goal: to fashion a social media plan with minimal time and maximum fun specifically for artists. So I started following blogs and watching tutorial videos and taking teleseminars out the wazoo, and I became very excited about the possibilities for myself and other artists.

When you speak conversationally with fellow artists about social media, what is the general attitude toward it?

“Time waster” (with sneer) used to be the response, but the attitude has changed just over the last year. Everyone has heard at least of Facebook Fan Pages and is interested in knowing more about those.

Do you think most artists understand how social networking could enhance their career? Why or why not?

No, I think very few have the big picture, but that’s understandable — it’s such a large picture and it changes so often! I’ve made quite a study of the largest sites and how to integrate your activity on them, but why would anyone else but a geek on a mission do that? Individuals would need to devote tons of time to teach themselves, and I know most artists are marketing averse and certainly computer averse. So I think most artists welcome the way I have packaged what they need to know, and I provide lots of examples that help clarify the goals.

You know, 10 years ago when I started working with artists, Web sites were a tough sell. Artists now know they must have one to be taken seriously as a professional. I think it’s just a matter of time before the same understanding of social media soaks in.

What are some of the first steps an artist (who already has a website showcasing their work) might take into social media?

I advise people to, at the very least, develop a Facebook Fan Page because you may reach a different audience for your work on Facebook, and you can essentially recreate your Web site on a Page through the various tabs. Then, sign up for a Twitter account and link it to Facebook, in order to have a Twitter presence without effort.  Use the same headshot or identifying image on all three.  Then put your Web site URL on your Fan Page, and put your Facebook and Twitter addresses on your Web Site. Voila, good first steps!

Do artists need to consider blogging as part of their social media strategy? What can that do for them?

A Web site (non-Wordpress) is a static, relatively formal presentation of your artwork. A blog can be more in the present moment, spontaneous and personal. It can make an artist more approachable, demystify the creative process to patrons, and make it easy to share your most current work and thoughts on your artistic journey. It’s also fun to have a permanent record of your journey for yourself!

What kind of blog alternatives are there for artists who aren’t confident writers?

I subscribe to a couple of blogs where the artist simply has a detailed caption under her latest piece, and she calls it a day. I think a background story helps to connect with your audience, but the visual piece is the most important element.

What are some of the key differences to using Facebook successfully vs. other platforms, such as Twitter or LinkedIn?

Facebook is all about interacting and building relationships. Twitter is about sharing your knowledge and sources of expertise and learning from others. LinkedIn is a professional networking site that can expand your range of career resources and contacts. They each have very different vibes and audiences and are initially attractive to different personality types, but I think artists should have a presence on all three.

What sorts of “a-ha” moments related to this topic are experienced by artists who take your social media workshops?

My experience from teaching these workshops has been very gratifying as I see little light bulbs go off around the room. They understand they can access all this FREE online marketing power AND they can do it themselves AND have fun doing it.

How important is it to have a social media integration plan? What do those look like?

I encourage people to think it all through before they jump into social media. Do they have a home base, e.g. Web site, online portfolio, or blog? If not, they need one. Once on a social networking site, they should always be pointing people back to their home base. The most basic plan would involve choosing a social networking site they think will be fun and that they can commit to working on for a year. Make sure the same keywords are distributed throughout their Web site (or other home base) and their social media site profile for good search engine optimization. That is absolutely the most basic plan.

The best plan is to have a presence on a personal Web site, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog and to integrate them using apps so that minimal time is spent working the system. We want artists to take advantage of this brave new world yet still spend lots of time in the studio.

Is there anything else related to this topic that you think is relevant?

I want to encourage artists to start thinking of themselves as a brand and to be consistent and professional in their formal presentation of themselves to the world, and that in no way dilutes their artistic integrity. Just because it’s not time spent creating art doesn’t mean it’s time wasted. These are tasks that support their creativity and they can also be creative and fun.

Julia at one with her work.


  1. A great interview. Julia has been a delight to get to know personally.

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